While its title is suggestive of a Noir thriller, Brian DePalma’s latest film, “Femme Fatale,” delivers the seductive and dangerous female, but leaves the filmic conventions at the door. Thievery, sex, backstabbing, sex, violence, sex, plot twists and, oh yeah, did I mention the film has sex in it? Laure Ash (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, “X-Men”) is a master thief who uses her extreme good looks and feminine wiles to manipulate all who cross her path. This film marks the return of a DePalma who, with films like “Scarface” and “Body Double,” pushed the limits of sex and violence on screen.
A scene from Billy Wilder’s Noir classic “Double Indemnity” opens the film and DePalma chooses to slowly move the camera back to reveal a naked Laure in the television’s reflection. This juxtaposition sets up the alluring female lead and as the viewer comes to find out, Laure is about to heist $10 million worth of diamonds. These jewels, however, are not contained in a safe or protected by laser beams, but worn around the bare breasts of a female model entering the Cannes Film Festival. Posing as a photographer, Laure invites the model into the women’s lavatory for a little more than idle chat. What follows is one of the most erotic lesbian scenes allowed within an MPAA R rating.
Guns are pulled and events do not go according to plan. Laure is able to flee with the diamonds, leaving her cohorts behind. When the duped partners do catch up with her, Laure is flung from a balcony, lands on a pile of mats and rescued by a couple who believe her to be their runaway daughter. The parents take Laure home and the impostor soon discovers that she has the ability to pass for the missing girl. Incidentally, the estranged daughter eventually returns and commits suicide in front of her would be doppelganger. Laure now has a passport and a new identity. Flash seven years later.
Nicolas Bardo (Antonio Banderas, “Mask of Zorro”) is an out of work paparazzi living in Paris who gets called upon to take a photo of the American Ambassador’s new, elusive wife. Bardo succeeds in snapping the picture, but in doing so finds himself caught up in a world of deception and confusion brought on by Laure, the wife of the ambassador.
DePalma has once again proven himself a master of directing, including reviving his signature use of split screen action. His camera-work and frame-within-a-frame techniques are well executed and his embedded symbolism in terms of props, scenery, or otherwise is genius. The ending is somewhat unexpected but seems all too convenient. “Femme Fatale” is a visually stunning film and while its ending does bring with it some playful elements concerning past events, it falters in its ability to conclude swiftly and lacks an overall feeling of originality.
The necessary chemistry between Banderas and Romijn-Stamos is contained in a film that depends highly on the actors being comfortable with sex scenes. Romijn-Stamos, like in her role of Mystique in “X-Men,” does not say much throughout the film. When she does speak her French accent borders on Russian/German at times, but her sheer presence on screen is usually enough to allow for such minimal dialogue. When blessed with words however, one can count on her spouting lines such as “You don’t have to lick my ass to fuck me.” Yikes.
“Femme Fatale” begins as a brilliant return to past film glory, but becomes a great disappointment as its script falls into an easy, clich